The Huffington Post decision to stop reporting Donald Trump’s ersatz presidential campaign is a sadder commentary on the state of the media than on his random babblings. HuffPo said it would relegate the Republican to the entertainment section because, “Trump’s campaign is a sideshow.”
Voters must make informed decisions about the people who would run their government. That requires knowing as much as possible. Media must report fairly and honestly what the candidate says, and the personal traits he or she displays as the campaign progresses. Without knowing the good, the bad and the ugly, voters lack significant information from which to judge candidate qualifications.
The Huffington decision deprives voters of key information from which to assess Trump, as many read the hard news and political sections but not entertainment. (Although in this case, it will have minimal impact because Huffington is a left-leaning site and very few Republicans read it.)
Media have significant outlets to pass judgment, but the hard news section should not be one of them. It would have been more appropriate for editors and publishers to write an editorial expressing its views. It has Op-Ed and blog space where commentators can opine at will.
However, without basic straight uncommented news reports of what was said, there is no information platform from which to juxtapose institutional opinion in an editorial or personal opinion in a column.
The dangerous precedent set here goes far beyond media megalomaniac Donald Trump. The electoral system is threatened.
All citizens have a right to run for office in our democratic republic, even the village idiot. The voters then need to pay attention and separate the wheat from the chaff. Media must report on all candidates equally for voters to have the information required for an intelligent decision.
The danger is media becoming the pre-determinant of who is a legitimate candidate. That is wrong.
Suppose you wanted to run for town council but had a business feud with the local weekly newspaper publisher. His disdain for you personally should not prevent his hard news pages from informing local voters that you are running and what you say. As a private publication, the publisher has the freedom to campaign against you in editorials. The voters can then make up their own minds based on the information from all sources.
Looking back in history, what might have happened to New York City if the roaring-20s media relegated Jimmy Walker’s mayoral campaign to the entertainment pages? He had worked his way through law school as a vaudevillian. His campaign was certainly a sideshow. Eschewing political speeches, he broke into song-and-dance routines. He flaunted his disdain for the 18th Amendment by allowing photographers to snap him coming out of speakeasies with showgirls on his arm. Working class voters lapped it up and gave him the Democratic nomination from which he ousted incumbent Republican Mayor John Hylan.
Despite the sideshow campaign, Mayor Walker formed the city’s first sanitation commission, built public hospitals for the working poor and started construction of the IRT line that extended subways to outer boroughs. Despite his flamboyant campaign style, he was reelected against Republican Fiorello LaGuardia and Socialist Norman Thomas. (His flamboyance was also his downfall when Judge Samuel Seabury started investigating Walker’s financial gains while in office, leading to his resignation.)
In any event, the media was a key factor by reporting the good, the bad and ugly. Nevertheless, Walker got his chance because he was recognized as a candidate and reported as such.
Those who decry the influence of money in politics should be even more worried about the HuffPo stance. If media are empowered to be the doorkeeper, deciding whom to report, candidates will bypass the media and go directly to the voters with paid advertising and direct mail. This will drive up the costs of the campaign process and force candidates to go after large donors.
Mainstream media should editorialize strongly against the principle behind the Huffington Post decision or it abets this desecration of free elections.
Gallup reported, “Prior to 2004, Americans placed more trust in mass media than they do now.”
Trust in media is at an all-time low. In 2014, Gallup reported distrust in media transcended party lines with 73 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of unenrolled independents and 46 percent of Democrats saying they did not trust the media.
Manipulation of information is a primary reason.
The public must be informed unfiltered, or elections will go to the candidate with the slickest brochures and controlled ad messages. That should not be.
Vic Berardelli is the author of The Politics Guy Campaign Tips – How to Win a Local Election and a retired campaign consultant. Now an unenrolled independent voter, he is a former Republican State Committeeman and former member of the Republican Liberty Caucus National Board.